Twin Cities clergy call for “healing” after Wednesday’s killing of nine people inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Around 25 local clergy participated in an early afternoon interdenominational prayer service at St. James AME Church in St. Paul Thursday.
Rev. Alphonse Reff, Sr., the presiding elder of the 10-church St. Paul Minneapolis District, where five AME churches under his leadership are located in the Twin Cities, suggested that the pastors and other church leaders focus this Sunday’s sermons on how “to demonstrate God’s love” in light of the shooting.
The MSR talked to Reff and other local pastors.
America is living “under the curse of segregation, and it has to be broken,” stated Reff, who pointed to the South Carolina state flag. “That flag represents bitterness and hatred. What happened [Wednesday night] was a…tradition of hatred and bitterness passed from one generation to the other. This young man was  years old — somewhere bitterness and hatred had to be instilled in him.”
“This kind of hatred is happening all over the world” and not just in the AME Church, said Minneapolis’ St. Peter’s AME Church Pastor Nazim Fakir. “The hate and evil against equality have gotten worse since Obama became president.”
Some questioned calling the nine deaths a hate crime. Should it instead be classified as a terrorist act?
“I consider it an act of terror,” said Fakir. “It may have been a lone gunman…[but] he was trying to visit terror on the persons in that church.”
“We’ve come to understand that terrorism is something that happens from people who have a large agenda beyond a small setting. A hate crime is specific, intentional and can be wicked,” said Rev. Stacey Smith, St. James’ pastor.
“I don’t know if there is a difference” between a hate crime and a terrorist act, admitted Zion Baptist Church Pastor Rev. Brian Herron. “If you commit a terrorist act, you commit it because of hate. I certainly know that this is terrorism and it’s hate. I think they are one and the same.”
Wednesday’s shooting brought back painful memories of the four Black girls who were killed after a bomb exploded inside a Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, continued Herron. “When I first heard it, my mind immediately went back to that. I don’t think…there are much differences here.”
“We are suffering with our sisters and brothers in Charleston,” said Dr. Will Healy, senior pastor of Park Avenue United Methodist Church in South Minneapolis. The possible manner in how the alleged shooter “infiltrated” the Charleston church during the prayer service and Bible study Wednesday night “is so profoundly troubling and painful for me. He came inside like a wolf in lamb’s clothing to a place that is of safety and freedom,” said Healy.
“Something instilled in his mind…to cause him to do this,” said Reff. “We don’t know what happened but God knows what happened. I’m convinced that all things happen for a reason. We have to join forces and pray.”
Smith advised, “The only thing we can ensure is that we trust in God. Don’t hold anything against anyone, and keep moving. Don’t allow it to destroy who you are and what you believe.”
Healy said his Sunday message will be of “healing and hope. Our congregation is decidedly multi-cultural. [The shooting] cuts very deeply to the life of our community.” Likewise, Bishop D.L. Bryant Kemp, Sr. of New Mount Calvary Baptist Church also asked his pastors “to preach love and not hate.”
Rev. Richard Coleman of Minneapolis noted that the Charleston shooting can help the entire community learn more about the Black church and its history. Mother Emanuel AME Church is one of the oldest Black churches in the South. “I believe everybody [should] want to be spending some time learning about the history of the [Black] church and its role in the formation of this country,” said Coleman.
“I am relieved that the perpetrator was caught. I’m saddened for him but I know that…there is a blessing and I just trust that God will show us what that blessing will be,” said Smith.
“We have to be unbowed, unafraid and unintimidated. It is very painful and I think we have to keep preaching and teaching against violence from anybody,” stated Herron.
“What happened in the 60’s and 50’s are still happening in 2015. We have to overcome it through love,” concluded Reff. “Until we learn how to love each other and live [with each other], nothing will happen.”
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.